Sinop


By 1853 Russia had more naval personnel than any other nation in the world; only Britain possessed more ships. The countries of Western Europe accorded due respect to the Russian Navy but envied it as well. British diplomats were especially zealous in pursuing an anti-Russian policy. The London Treaty of 1840, for example, banned Russia's Black Sea Fleet from the Bosporus. Britain and its allies further sought to undermine Russia's position by heightening tensions in the Near East.

British provocations were unintentionally furthered by the short-sighted policy of Nicholas I, who, unfortunately, attempted to resolve Russia's conflict with Turkey solely by force of arms. The Tsar and his advisors underestimated the strength of the Ottoman Empire, which was supported by both British and French forces. In the spring of 1853, in accordance with the Emperor's orders, Admiral Menshikov broke off negotiations with Turkey. In early summer Russian forces entered Moldavia and Wallachia, and, on the Danube, on 11 October, the Turks opened fire on the steamers Prut and Ordinarets [Orderly], and eight Russian gunboats. Eight days later Nicholas I declared war on Turkey.

One of Lazarev's legacies to the Russian Navy was a plan for the invasion of the Bos-porus that foresaw and precluded the involvement of England and France and, therefore, could have brought the war to a swift conclusion. Vice-Admiral Vladimir Kornilov saw the merits of the plan and supported it. On the other hand, Admiral Menshikov was opposed, and, since he held the Emperor's favour, Lazarev's plan for a timely invasion was never realized.

Following Lazarev's death, the Black Sea Fleet was placed under the command of the aged Admiral Moriz Berkh, but, because of the rigorous training program established by Chief of the Naval Staff Vice-Admiral Kornilov, Russia's sailors were well-prepared.

The Black Sea Fleet fought tirelessly from the first days of the war. On 20 October 1853, the steamer Kolkhida ran aground near the Turkish-held fortress of St. Nicholas on the Caucasian coast. Enemy fire pounded the ship, mortally wounding the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Commander Konstantin Kuzminsky; however, the Russian sailors refused to surrender and succeeded in escaping to the open sea. On 4 November the steamer-frigate Bessarabia captured the Turkish armed steamer Medzhari Tedzharet without firing a single shot. The following day, Admiral Kornilov commanded the Vladimir in a firefight against the 10-gun steamer Pervaz Bakhri. The Vladimir accepted the surrender of the Turkish vessel after the Turks had suffered 58 casualties. On 9 November, near Pitsunda, the 44-gun frigate Flora suffered no losses when it repulsed the attack of three Turkish steamer frigates.

The Turkish Command meanwhile ordered the cruiser squadron of Vice-Admiral Osman Pasha to the Caucasus coast to support Turkey's ground forces. A raging storm arose, and the Turks were forced to take shelter at the Sinop Bight, where they were detected by the squadron of Vice-Admiral Pavel Nakhimov. After deliberating with his officers, Nakhimov decided he must attack the Turkish fleet. Strengthened by the squadron of Rear-Admiral Fyodor Novosilsky, Nakhimov had amassed a total of 710 cannon under his command. On 17 November he met with Novosilsky and the commanders of the other ships in his fleet and explained his plan of attack and its objectives. At the conclusion of their meeting, Nakhimov wrote the following to his officers: "I grant you the authority to act according to your own best judgment, but I enjoin each to do his duty." Nakhimov attacked with six ships of the line and two frigates on 18 November. The Turkish squadron, in its routine crescent formation, numbered seven frigates, three corvettes and two steamers.

Nakhimov's plan called for deploying the Russian ships in two columns, casting anchor and attacking with artillery at short range. Under Nakhimov's command, the 84-gun ship Imperatritsa Maria [Empress Maria] was the first to drop anchor opposite the 44-gun flag frigate Auni Allah. Within half an hour the Turkish frigate was riddled with holes, and, when the Turks cut their anchor cables, their ship ran agro-und. In the next half hour the Imperatritsa Maria disabled and set fire to the 44-gun Fazli Allah. The 120-gun ship of Rear Ad-miral Fyodor Novosilsky damaged the Tur-kish vessels Damiad and Nizamie. The rest of the Russian ships were no less successful: the Turkish frigate Navek Bakhri exploded, covering the coast with wreckage, and the corvette Guli Sephid was also destroyed. The only enemy vessel that managed to break through the Russian line was the 20-gun steamer-frigate Taiph, which fled and brought news of the defeat to Constantinople. In the Battle of Sinop, 266 Russian officers and crewmen perished. The Turks suffered more than 3,000 casualties, and the wounded Osman Pasha was taken prisoner.

Vice-Admiral Nakhimov was awarded the Order of Saint George for his role in the victory. Nevertheless, the Crimean War was only beginning. On 23 December 1853, the combined British-French fleet arrived in the Black Sea to defend the Turkish coast. In mid-May of 1854, Great Britain and France declared war on Russia.